Meet the Inaugural Cohort
Bethel New Life - $100,000
Blackstone Challenge funding will allow Bethel New Life, an organization focused on bringing individuals and families out of poverty, to launch a Business and Technology Program featuring a training course, workshop series and an expanded tech lab, in Chicago’s West Side.Learn More
Bunker Labs - $150,000
Blackstone Challenge funding will allow Bunker Labs, an organization that helps military veterans launch and grow businesses through educational programs and networking, to create Guided Virtual Cohorts, a remote, high touch version of the successful Bunker in a Box platform, and the CEOcircle Program, a program which provides additional resources to later stage founders.Learn More
BLUE1647 - $150,000
Blackstone Challenge funding will allow BLUE1647, an entrepreneurship and technology center serving Chicago’s South and West sides, to double the program offerings of BLUEINCUBATE, an accelerator offering shared workspace and membership to start-ups, tech-enabled businesses and individuals, allowing these entrepreneurs to grow their businesses, integrate technology into their strategy, and network with stakeholders and investors.Learn More
1871 - $150,000
Blackstone Challenge funding will support 1871, a hub for digital startup entrepreneurship in Chicago, to create the 1871 Community Curriculum Project that will digitalize content from its workshops and events to make it accessible to a wider audience of entrepreneurs including underserved communities.Learn More
UI Labs - $100,000
Blackstone Challenge funding will support UI Labs, an innovation accelerator that brings together partners from “university + industry,” to create the City Digital: Inclusive Entrepreneurship for Collaborative Innovation, a partnership between City Digital and Colony 5 to help community based start-ups tackle complex urban challenges and explore ideas on smart city developments through entrepreneurship.Learn More
Future Founders - $125,000
Blackstone Challenge funding will support Future Founders, an organization focused on inspiring the next generation of young entrepreneurs, in the creation of Future Founders Chicago Cohort, a program that fosters the development of millennial businesses from communities of color, women, veterans and immigrants with 1-on-1 biweekly mentoring, monthly cohort workshops, and an intensive two-day summit.Learn More
IC Stars - $100,000
Blackstone Challenge funding will allow i.c.stars, an organization that provides technology-based training for low-income adults, to expand Enterprise Next, a three month lean startup training and incubation program, and to add a pitch night and Idea Hacks.Learn More
Women’s Business Development Center - $125,000
Blackstone Challenge funding will allow the Women’s Business Development Center, which aims to strengthen women’s entrepreneurship and impact on the economy, to expand ScaleUp, a program which provides entrepreneurial education, one -on-one support and mentoring, to two new neighborhoods including West Rogers Park and South Chicago.Learn More
Every American, no matter where they are from, deserves the chance to get ahead. That means we need to make it easier – not harder – for small businesses to get off the ground, especially for those led by women, Veterans, immigrants and people of color in underserved communities. I’m pleased these investments will help support a diverse group of entrepreneurs in Chicagoland area, and I look forward to continuing my efforts to make economic justice a reality for all Americans.– United States Senator Tammy Duckworth
Learn How it works
Submission of Proposals
Through an open RFP, proposals were accepted in early 2017. Please note: the application process is now closed.
Selection of Cohort
8 organizations were selected for the first cohort, receiving a total of $1 million in grant funding. For more information on grantees, please see below.
Year 1 Activities
Organizations will focus on deploying strategies to recruit and engage entrepreneurs from the target populations in their programs. Programs will officially launch in July 2017.
Year 2-3 Activities
Organizations will focus on helping to scale and grow the most successful entrepreneurs within their programs.
We will host regular convenings and networking events for the cohort to foster collaboration and the sharing of best practices to maximize the regional impact of Blackstone's investment. In addition, we will link the leadership of the cohort with the resources of Blackstone and the broader Chicago entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Director, Inclusive Entrepreneurship
Jimmy Odom was co-founder and Senior Vice President for Innovation and Entrepreneurship of Intersect Illinois, the State’s public-private partnership driving business and economic opportunity. He is the immediate past Senior Advisor for Minority Business Development at the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. In that role, Jimmy worked with communities across the state to help create, develop, and mature minority-owned businesses in the State of Illinois. Before joining the Department of Commerce, Jimmy founded WeDeliver, the largest hyper-local logistics service in Chicago. As CEO of WeDeliver, Jimmy was responsible for creating, communicating and implementing the vision, mission, and corporate direction. Prior to launching WeDeliver, Jimmy worked at Apple Inc. as the Head of Customer Experience for the Midwest region. Jimmy has been recognized by many business leaders within the Midwest entrepreneurial community. IBM awarded his team North America’s Most Innovative Company Award (2014). The Chicago Urban League presented him with the Chicago Urban League Innovator Award that same year (2014). He was featured on Crain’s Business Chicago’s 50 Most Influential People list (2014) and at the Moxie Awards his peers voted him the Best Founder in Chicago (2014). Jimmy was raised in Chicago, Illinois and now resides in Homewood with his wife and three children.
Jimmy Odom joins ChicagoNext after leaving state government post
Jimmy Odom Joins World Business Chicago to Boost Tech Diversity in Chicago
Chicago will get up to $3.4 million in grants to support diverse entrepreneurs
Brought to You By The Blackstone Charitable Foundation
I am thrilled that the Blackstone Charitable Foundation is launching its first inclusive entrepreneurship program in my hometown. We hope that this program will serve as a model for other cities seeking to increase support and opportunities for entrepreneurs from all communities.— Jon Gray, Global Head of Blackstone Real Estate